Monthly Archives: December 2011

Happy Holidays!

On behalf of myself and my fellow bloggers, I’d like to wish you the best of the holiday season.

It’s a busy time of year for everyone, so we’re going to put the blog on hold until the first week of January.

Thank you for your enthusiasm and participation.  I look forward to continuing our discussions in the New Year!



Add mystery shopping to your toolbox

A few years ago, I became a victim of the stagnating economy.  Messages of condolence followed, including one from a former boss of mine.  She expressed her sympathies and explained she might have a line on some part-part-time work, if I was interested.  Intrigued, I took the bait and wrote her back.

It was then that she revealed that she had a secret hobby.

She was a mystery shopper.

And more baffling, she LIKED it.

She explained that mystery shopping might be a way for me to enjoy some leisure pursuits while getting paid to do so.  Sounds good, right?

I signed up and found a campaign evaluating a movie theatre.  Sounded great – I just had to make sure that the ticket takers were wearing their proper hats, the popcorn was not burnt, submit a report, and I would get to see the movie for free!

… after they refunded you two months later…and if you can make the Wednesday Matinee (starting in 10 minutes)…and if you pass the pre-qualifying quiz…


Fortunately, I returned to the land of the employed before too long, and promptly forgot all about mystery shopping.

I didn’t think about it again until I read “New Profits in Wireless Retailing” by Ed Legum.  Ed devotes several pages to mystery shopping.  Turns out it is a great tool for any retailer to have in their toolbox.  And most importantly, you can do it yourself.

Legum suggests you don your mystery shopper cap, and head out to evaluate your competitors.  Seeing how they do business is a great way to identify areas for improvement in your own business.

Some things to look for include:

  • What products and services do they sell?  How do they project their image?
  • What do their displays look like?
  • How knowledgeable/helpful are their salespeople?
  • Did they answer your questions?  Would you buy from them?

Identify questions that are relevant to your business, and create a report card for each store you visit.  This is a quick way to determine how you stack up to the competition.

Definitely much more rewarding than a free movie.

Have you used mystery shopping in your business?  Was it a useful exercise?

Head-Free Calling

Okay… you’re on a busy highway.  Multiple lanes.  Middle of rush hour.  You’re currently in the fast lane.  You get a call.  You recognize the number as being that of the world’s most connected headhunter.  You hit the “answer” button (just because you’re a law-abiding citizen who happens to have Bluetooth – and you hate your job).   Well happy day!  This phenom has arranged for you to do a phone interview with a prospective employer.  It’s your dream job.  Huzzah!

Oh… one catch.  Your new potential employer is calling your cellphone in three minutes.

Panic.  No… don’t panic.  You can do this.  There’s an exit just ahead, and a gas station at the first set of lights.  You can make it there and still have 20 seconds to spare.  Or…  you can reschedule (are you an idiot?  This is your dream job!).  And there’s your answer.  You’ll pull into the gas station so you can concentrate on the call.  This is important.  You obviously don’t want your mind on something else while this critical conversation takes place.

And therein lies your admission.  And mine.  It’s about the level of concentration required to have a coherent conversation.  By definition – if you admitted that you would pull over (and you did), you have also admitted that you’re able to concentrate only on one thing.  It’s either driving, or having an intelligent conversation.

Are we to assume that despite the fact that while weaving in and out of traffic while trying to follow the flow in all six lanes, the deep conversation – about your youngest child being in detention because of an incident involving a fire alarm, a slinky and a Shetland pony – is perfectly safe because your hands are at 10 and 2?

Mobile phones have forever changed our habits and our ability to multi-task.  They’ve proven to be invaluable, and perfect for conversations akin to “Yes, Dear, I’ll get the milk”.  “Hi Bob, I’m running late”.  Or ”Yes I got your message.  You’re sure you destroyed every photo?”.   Our phones were not, I don’t believe, intended for deep conversations while driving.

Hands-free or not.

In the vast majority of locales, there are no laws that bar you from calling into a radio station, winning tickets for the Tiffany Comeback tour (thinking that your kid will totally adore her and maybe you’ll bond over this and they’ll be every bit as excited as you are right now)… listening to yourself on air …  while you shift, peck at a half-rack of ribs, and wash it down with a skinny double mocha frappacappa smoothie… while you’re piloting 4000 pounds of steel through similar obstacles at 110 kilometres per hour.  In the fog.  But it’s okay.  You’re on a hands-free.

As the driver directly in front of you, I don’t care what you’re eating.  I don’t care what you’re drinking.  And I don’t particularly care where your hands are.

I want to know where your head is.

Where do you draw the line when taking calls in the car?

Selling Fear

After 5 years, my laptop finally gave up the ghost.  I ventured down to a big box electronics store on my lunch break.  My salesperson was friendly, got my name, and helped me with my purchase.  To my surprise, he did a lot of things right.  Until…

The extended warranty spiel.

I listened patiently as he outlined every benefit of the extended warranty.  Five minutes later it was finally over.  My response?

“I think I’ll pass.”

He looked surprised.  “Can I ask why?”

I gave him points for that.  Rather than saying the real reason (I’m too cheap), I replied with a more elusive, “I’ll take my chances”

He actually grimaced at me. “Well you will certainly be rolling the dice”.  His tone was if I had decided to drop out of school, or take up cake juggling, not refuse a $200 warranty on a $500 laptop.

He went on, “The failure rate on laptops is quite high.  And the power cords?  They generally only last 12-14 months before they give out from regular use, and then you’re looking at $100 to replace them.  If you need parts for repairs, it can take weeks to get them from the manufacturer” And on and on.

And on.

He did relent after I refused again, but it left a sour note on an otherwise pleasant sale.

So what was he selling me exactly?  It didn’t sound like an extended warranty anymore.  It sounded like he was serving me a big heaping pile of fear – though he did stop short of claiming my computer could (and certainly would) burst into flames at any moment.

Why do we sell warranties this way?  The fear tactic must work on some people.  But I have to wonder, are those people satisfied customers?

Extended warranties can be great, and are valuable and necessary in the right circumstances.  That said, I am curious if there is a better way to sell them that doesn’t sabotage the salesperson’s hard work on the floor.  What do you think?

What techniques do you use to sell extended warranties?  As a shopper, what has convinced you to purchase them?

Your sales prospects and customers don’t care about you

I have been in sales and marketing for about 20 years.  I have worked for several telecommunications companies, both large and small.  My background and experience has given me the good fortune to work with many companies similar to yours.  The product I sell has many great features that I’m sure will help you and your company.

So, quick question; at what point did you stop caring about what I was saying? My guess is right away.  Heck, even I was bored pretty much immediately.

In sales, as soon as you start talking about yourself and what you think is important, people stop listening.  It’s not about you.  Prospective customers don’t care about you.  Now, don’t misunderstand; they may like you as a person.  I’m sure you are quite likeable.  But, when selling to retail or business customers, the only thing they are concerned with is solving their problems or achieving some objective.  This problem or objective can be a business problem or it can be a personal situation, but the selling interaction needs to revolve around them.  The problem might be a complicated business data requirement or it could be that their cousin Jim has a newer, faster smartphone and Jim keeps teasing him.  It depends on the situation. Everybody that is buying something is either resolving a pain or trying to bring some pleasure into their lives.

One other thing that prospects don’t care about is the features of whatever it is you are selling.  Obviously, the features are important but only as they are able to make their problem go away.  They don’t buy the features, they buy the end result.  Using the approach of, “This device is packed with features. Let me show you what X manufacturer has come out with in this model.” can be a deal breaker.  It’s not about what the salesperson wants to say (despite the awesome product training they just had), it’s about what the potential customer needs.  What they don’t need is to waste time or get confused listening to a sales pitch on features.  For many, the features all sound about the same anyway so how does this help them make a decision? What prospects do need is to have a solution to their problem and a well-informed salesperson is in a great position to provide this solution.

So, what is this super secret that keeps the conversation about the prospect, that makes sure you are providing the solution that responds to the needs of the potential customer, and that guarantees you are not wasting their time or yours?

Questions.  Learn to ask the right questions. Wow…I bet that is a shocker.

As simple as it seems, the right questions are the only way to know the truth and it is an area where so many salespeople struggle.  They have so much information stored in their heads they feel that it just has to come out.  Maybe they should ask some questions first?  And not just superficial questions where you are not really paying attention (Questions asked…check!) and are just waiting for an opportunity to “sell”.

Asking the right questions will establish if the potential customer has a problem you can fix, how that problem is affecting their business or them personally, has the means (i.e. money) to invest in something that will resolve the problem and is looking to do it in a reasonable timeframe.  Once you know this information, then you can use your knowledge of the industry, features, competitors, prices and so on to give them a professional response; a solution.  Or, if they can’t afford your product or are not able to make the decision any time soon, then you can decide if you should spend your time with them or gracefully move on.

So, if a potential customer says, “I think I need a new Blackberry?”, does anyone have any suggestions on what to do next?

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